The world is full of beautiful mysteries that were obviously created by aliens. Stonehenge, the Egyptian pyramids, those crop circles that were briefly popular in the ’90s…and these swirls I noticed in the street this morning:
These were not the work of a child with a piece of chalk, but they were clearly deliberate, and they evoked that painting by that guy who cut his ear off:
I pondered them and concluded that they too must be of extraterrestrial origin…until I realized that they were just from the wheel of this SUV grinding all those gravel bits into the street while parallel parking:
I count at least eight swirls, which means the driver backed in and out of the space at least that many times.
Then, a little while later, I came across a figure in the road that was a little more serpentine:
It was either very cold or very dead. We’ve been having unseasonably warm weather lately, though the temperature dropped steeply as of yesterday, and according to a popular search engine snakes brumate when it’s cold. This means they go all lethargic, and not that they turn into thermal mugs:
So either the snake was in a state of extreme brumation, which seems unlikely given the location, or else it had been doing regular snake stuff when the temperature suddenly dropped and it froze to death. If the latter, surely we can blame climate change, in which case the logical course of action is to throw more soup at that painting by the ear guy.
In any case, when I came across the snake I was riding my “What, this old thing?” bike:
A “What, this old thing?” bike is one that draws attention from other bike people and gives the appearance of being thrown together haphazardly but is in fact highly curated. Plenty of people have more than one bike, and lots of them even have so-called “beaters,” but only the worst kinds of pretentious bike dorks have “What, this old thing?” bikes. “Oh, this? It’s just a rare frame steeped in ’80s irony with XTR, low-normal friction shifting, and a smattering of old Suntour. It takes a trained eye to appreciate what you’re looking at and a lot of the stuff on it is actually really expensive, but I only ride it when it’s really, really salty out:”
Riders like this will also often tack gratuitous “errands” onto their rides to pretend like they’re not just parading around on their precious bicycles, and in my case I was going to visit Willy Appelhans:
Awhile back I’d been perusing the Classic Cycle museum and came across his bikes, and in reading more about him I also learned that he lived (and presumably worked) not too far from where I live, and that his life ended tragically:
Since the house was close I’d been meaning to swing by, so that’s what I did, visiting some local dirt on the way:
As I got closer to the Appelhans residence, I encountered a true Department of Transportation masterpiece. See this intersection?
All the lights are green and the walk signal is in your favor. So you’d go, right?
Well that’s precisely what I did, at which point I was nearly walloped by oncoming traffic:
“Did I just run the light without realizing it?,” I wondered once I made it across. No, I was absolutely certain that not only had the light been green but that I’d also had the walk. So I went back and observed the cycle. Sure enough, for some reason, when I had the green and the walk, so did oncoming traffic. It was astounding, like the DOT had timed the lights specifically to kill you. But then I scanned the area, and way off to the right and completely out of the way, I noticed this, which was red while everything else was green (or white in the case of the pedestrian signal):
It you’re in the bike lane and looking straight ahead it’s completely out of your field of vision. I mean look at this, it’s nowhere to be seen:
OK, let’s pan right:
Oh wait, there it is, juuust coming into view in the far right:
Also, it’s a “walk” signal, and only the sorts of nerds who read Streetsblog know that pedestrian signals also apply to bikes. I mean are you fucking kidding me? It’s just an exquisite example of how they build these bike lanes to put more green lines on the map without making sure they actually work–the street design equivalent of a bike mechanic putting a crankarm on the spindle and giving it to a customer without tightening the bolt. Speaking of which, shortly before this I came upon a rider with exactly that problem: he’d recently had a new crank installed and the shop must have forgotten to tighten it because the left arm was flopping around like the flush lever on a dive bar toilet. Sadly, I did not have an 8mm Allen key on me, but it just so happened he was headed to an appointment in my neighborhood. So he took an Uber there with his bike and I met him there afterward with the necessary tools and fixed his bike for him. This made me feel good about myself, and he was very grateful. But at no point during either of our encounters did he ask me about my “What, this old thing?” bike, and if you don’t get a chance to impress someone with your equipment while helping them is it really worth it?
Of course if he’d had a mechanical in Manhattan or Brooklyn there would have been 19 shops in easy walking distance to tighten his crank for him, but around here there hasn’t been a bike shop since the days of Willy Appelhans–and here’s his house:
I briefly considered knocking on the door.
“Hello, do you know this house was once owned by a famous bike racer and builder?”
“Why no, I didn’t! But there was a ton of old bike crap in the basement when I bought it. You’re more than welcome to it.”
Then I’d really have a “What, this old thing?” bike to pretend not to be proud of:
Alas, I didn’t knock, losing out to my own dreams like Appelhans lost out to Madonna:
They say real estate is about location, location, location, and Appelhans’s house was once practically right around the corner from the velodrome, which is a pretty good location for a bike racer and builder:
It was called the New York Velodrome:
And it’s now a Target:
Apart from a couple of bike racks in front (and of course the bikes with backwards forks they sell inside) there’s little about this Target that evokes bikes. However there is an elevated parking lot:
It’s basically a drag strip (or whatever the drifting equivalent of a drag strip is) and if there was still such a thing as fixed-gear crits the former site of the New York Velodrome seems like it would be the perfect place for one:
It also has panoramic views of the Harlem River and downtown Manhattan way in the distance:
Well if anyone decides to put one on I know where we could get some course tape: